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Gabriel Horn, White Deer of Autumn, taught with words and actions

The St. Petersburg resident, teacher and author died at 76.
 
Gabriel Horn, White Deer of Autumn, in 1993. He was an award-winning author and a teacher. "He was always teaching us," said daughter Calusa Horn.
Gabriel Horn, White Deer of Autumn, in 1993. He was an award-winning author and a teacher. "He was always teaching us," said daughter Calusa Horn. [ 1993 | AP ]
Published Dec. 23, 2023|Updated Dec. 23, 2023

“We gaze up at the night sky, miles away from the artificial lights of the civilized world, and we cast our eyes toward the distant heavens and the realm of unimaginable space and unlimited possibilities,” Gabriel Horn, White Deer of Autumn, wrote in the beginning of “The Book of Ceremonies.”

“We stare up at the expanse of an infinite universe with countless stars suspended in the void, and we are connected to Time and Hope, like junctures of light in the deep dark ocean of space.”

Horn’s words did that, too, collecting and connecting people.

Horn, whose family came from the Narragansett Tribe/Wampanoag Nation, was a teacher, activist and award-winning author.

Horn died Nov. 3 at 76 of complications from a heart attack.

Gabriel Horn is pictured in the St. Petersburg Times in 1971 after his protests led to the removal of racist billboards by an area bank.
Gabriel Horn is pictured in the St. Petersburg Times in 1971 after his protests led to the removal of racist billboards by an area bank. [ 1971 | St. Petersburg Times ]

White Deer of Autumn

In St. Petersburg, Horn’s front door faced the east.

“Every morning, he would get up, go out and greet the dawn,” said wife and fellow writer Amy Krout-Horn, Last Word Woman, whose family is Lakota.

It was a short journey that took him years to begin.

Horn grew up in foster care in several states and dropped out of high school at 17. He found family for the first time in Tampa, where he was adopted by two uncles, Nippawanock and Metacomet, also from the Narragansett Tribe/Wampanoag Nation. They helped him discover Indigenous histories and traditions.

Horn began attending a junior college program for high school dropouts and then finished his degree in English and education at the University of South Florida.

Here, he began harnessing the power of words.

In 1971, Horn protested against racist “Savvy Seminole” billboards from Seminole Bank that showed cartoon depictions of Indigenous people. The news story about the incident itself continued the harm, comparing Horn to a caged animal. But he used that space to speak out about how Indigenous people were treated.

“Uncle Nippawanock considered his nephew’s work on the bank campaign a coup worthy of any warrior,” Jeff Klinkenberg wrote in the St. Petersburg Times in 1993. “One night, while grading papers, the uncle had a vision. He saw a white deer running through a mist, singing the name, Gabriel Horn.

“Nippawanock invited to Florida his septuagenarian mother, Princess Red Wing, to conduct a ceremony. The night after Horn graduated in 1973, Red Wing and the uncles smoked a sacred pipe and called on the Great Mystery. As the rest of Tampa went about its business, as traffic rumbled by and an occasional jet roared over, Red Wing stood in the backyard, extending the pipe toward the sky and announced a new name to the Cosmos. ‘Skanodeh Galaga,’ she said to the stars, and Uncle Nippawanock answered in English ‘White Deer.’”

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Gabriel Horn with his children, Carises, left, Calusa and lhasha, in 1986.
Gabriel Horn with his children, Carises, left, Calusa and lhasha, in 1986. [ 1986 | St. Petersburg Times ]

The way of words

After graduating, Horn went to work for the American Indian Movement, teaching Indigenous literature in Indigenous schools in Wyoming and Minnesota. In Minneapolis, he met Simone, Loon Song, an Ojibway lecturer. They married and named their children Ihasha, Calusa and Carises, after extinct Indigenous tribes.

His work resulted in regular death threats in the mail and an attack on his character from an official in the state’s Indian Education Center, who thought Horn wasn’t Indigenous enough to continue his work.

The family came back to Tampa Bay, and Horn became a member of the Pinellas County Art Council’s artist-in-the-schools program. During the day, he taught. At night, he wrote. At first, he wrote a series of children’s books. Then, an autobiography, then books of rituals and traditions, then fiction.

“They have a dog, a duck and a pet water dragon, a lizard about 18 inches long that has the run of the house,” the Times reported in 1993. “The other morning, a pileated woodpecker drummed on a backyard tree. They took their drum outside and answered back.”

In 1995, when their children were teenagers, Simone died of cancer. Horn planted a live oak at Boyd Hill Nature Park in her memory. Four years later, he wrote “The Book of Ceremonies.” It included this, “It is said that once the spirit is freed from the body it exists within all of nature … Death? the old man said. There is no death. Only a change of worlds.”

In 1999, Gabriel Horn visits the live oak tree planted in Boyd Hill Nature Park in honor of his wife, Simone Horn, who died of breast cancer in 1995. He said the tree reminded him of "Life, rebirth, a place to come and contemplate and be grateful."
In 1999, Gabriel Horn visits the live oak tree planted in Boyd Hill Nature Park in honor of his wife, Simone Horn, who died of breast cancer in 1995. He said the tree reminded him of "Life, rebirth, a place to come and contemplate and be grateful." [ 1999 | St. Petersburg Times ]

Like poetry

Writing helped Horn bring traditions and stories back to life. It also led to his second great love.

He became an English professor at St. Petersburg College; he taught at Eckerd College and The Poynter Institute. His work earned him national awards and a regular spot in the local news.

“I was always struck by how engaged his students were in the task of making meaning with language,” said Roy Peter Clark, who taught writing at Poynter.

Horn’s work reached more than just his students.

Amy Krout lived in Minneapolis and knew of Horn, was friends with his friends, but when Horn’s sister-in-law gave Krout an audio version of “The Book of Ceremonies,” she said, “I set it aside for a while because I just kind of had this feeling that once I read this, that it was going to be life-changing. And it was. I read his words and his view of the world and the way he brought beauty and color and light back into mine made me need to reach out to him, so we began writing back and forth.”

The two started talking through letters. Eventually, they became love letters.

They built a life together in Florida, where Horn’s children made the couple grandparents. And together, they made a safe place for their family.

“There’s a high price to any of us who are living in a society that wasn’t necessarily created for us,” Krout-Horn said. “He did what he needed to do in his life in navigating all that, but there was a price to pay for that. In our private life, we were each other’s soft place to land, and we’ve tried to provide that for our children and grandchildren as well.”

The couple were writing partners, sharing an office, reading, editing and publishing books together.

“His words, even when he was writing about the most complicated and most difficult topics, he had a way of weaving together the words in such a beautiful way and in such a poignant way that it felt like poetry,” she said.

And when they’d experience something incredible, like a sunset, a drifting manatee or gentle waves, the two would often quote a line of Horn’s from the book that brought them to each other.

“The line was ‘what is magic, if not the world,’” Krout-Horn said. “‘What is the world if not magic.’”

Amy Krout-Horn and Gabriel Horn were together for 22 years. They wrote books together and read and edited each other's work. "He had a way of weaving together the words in such a beautiful way and in such a poignant way that it felt like poetry."
Amy Krout-Horn and Gabriel Horn were together for 22 years. They wrote books together and read and edited each other's work. "He had a way of weaving together the words in such a beautiful way and in such a poignant way that it felt like poetry." [ Courtesy Amy Krout-Horn ]

Poynter news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story.